Top 10 consumer stories for 2010
How to make a pecan pie

How to clean up a broken CFL bulb

Compact fluorescent light or CFL bulbs contain a small amount of mercury sealed in glass tubing. When a CFL breaks in your home, some of the mercury is released as mercury vapor.

Broken-cfl_cropped_200[1] The broken bulb can continue to release mercury vapor until it’s cleaned up and removed from the home. To minimize exposure to mercury vapor, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends that consumers follow the cleanup and disposal steps described below:

1. Before cleanup

  • Have people and pets leave the room.
  • Air out the room for 5 to 10 minutes by opening a window or door to the outdoor environment.
  • Shut off the central forced air heating/air-conditioning system, if you have one.
  • Collect the materials needed to clean up the broken bulb.

2. During cleanup

  • Be thorough in collecting broken glass and visible powder.
  • Place cleanup materials in a sealable container.

3. After cleanup

  • Promptly place all bulb debris and cleanup materials outdoors in a trash container or protected area until the materials can be disposed of properly.
  • Avoid leaving any bulb fragments or cleanup materials indoors.
  • Continue to air out the room for several hours where the bulb was broken and leave the H&AC system shut off.

The EPA has issued this additional guidance as many consumers have been concerned about previous recommendations including cutting out areas of carpet where powder from a CFL has fallen.

Here are the EPA’s suggested steps for cleaning up a broken CFL from a carpet or rug:

  • Carefully scoop up glass fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place debris and paper/cardboard in a glass jar with a metal lid. If a glass jar isn’t available, use a sealable plastic bag. (NOTE: Since a plastic bag won’t prevent the mercury vapor from escaping, remove the plastic bag from the home after cleanup.)
  • Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder.
  • Place the used tape in the glass jar or plastic bag.
  • Vacuuming of carpeting or rugs during cleanup isn’t recommended unless broken glass remains after all other cleanup steps have been taken. [NOTE: It’s possible that vacuuming could spread mercury-containing powder or mercury vapor, although available information on this problem is limited.] If vacuuming is needed to ensure removal of all broken glass, keep the following tips in mind: (1) Keep a window or door to the outdoors open, (2) vacuum the area where the bulb was broken using the vacuum hose, if available, and (3) remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister) and seal the bag/vacuum debris, and any materials used to clean the vacuum, in a plastic bag.
  • Promptly place all bulb debris and cleanup materials, including vacuum cleaner bags, outdoors in a trash container or protected area until materials can be disposed of properly. Check with your local or state government about disposal requirements in your area. Some states and communities require fluorescent bulbs – broken or unbroken – be taken to a local recycling center.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water after disposing of the jars or plastic bags containing bulb debris and cleanup materials.
  • Continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the H&AC system shut off, as practical, for several hours.

The EPA also has recommendations for cleaning up broken CFLs from hard surfaces

 Copyright 2010, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Brad Buscher

As this article states, CFLs do save energy, but they also contain small amounts of mercury. It is important for consumers to realize that CFLs and fluorescent bulbs require special handling and cannot be thrown away in the trash. The mercury vapor can be detrimental to handlers' health—from those involved with handling new bulbs to people involved with storing, packaging and shipping used lamps. Mercury vapor, which can be absorbed through the skin or inhaled, can cause neurological damage, and when it gets into water, it can enter the food chain through fish. Read more about the dangers of mercury exposure at

In the future, if a bulb is broken, it should be properly cleaned up. Also, to reduce the risk for mercury vapor exposure, CFLs and fluorescent lamps should be stored and transported to recycling facilities in a package that is proven to effectively contain hazardous mercury vapor. Find out more about safe packaging and clean-up procedures at

Desk Lamps

This is great information about how to clean up these broken bulbs!! These will be the only types of bulbs around soon.

Avery Simek

I don't get why you have to shut off the AC before cleaning up a CFL bulb. I guess the room temperature can affect the leaking mercury vapor. Makes me think whether I should still use these bulbs for my house - especially in the children's room.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)